Controversial Virginia state Senator Joe Morrissey, one of the few anti-abortion Democrats still serving, was defeated in the Democratic primary—delivering an indirect blow to the state’s Republican Governor Glenn Youngkin.
Virginia, an almost-swing state where the legislature is currently politically split, is one of the few states which hold legislative races in odd-numbered years, unlike most of the country. Morrissey was among only two Virginia incumbents who lost to their challengers, together with Republican Senator Amanda Chase, who was defeated by lawyer Glen Sturtevant.
The Democratic senator, one of the state’s most controversial political figures, was unseated by challenger Lashrecse Aird, a 36-year-old former state legislator who has declared herself to be an unapologetic “100%” supporter of abortion rights.
Morrissey, a political centrist and a Catholic who said he doesn’t personally support abortion, was deeply criticized by fellow Democrats in Virginia for saying he would have voted with Republicans to pass further restriction on abortion access in the narrowly divided Senate—which is why his defeat at the Democratic primary is an issue for Youngkin too now, who has just lost a key supporter across party lines to his policies restricting abortion access in the state.
Aird not only outspent Morrissey in her primary campaign, but she also received the endorsement of lawmakers including the Virginia Senate Democratic Women’s Caucus.
“Morrissey has a long history of being on the wrong side of the values that matter to Virginia’s Democratic voters,” the caucus said in a statement. “His public behavior has, for years, drawn attention to himself rather than to the needs of his constituents.”
Abortion is currently legal in Virginia for people about 26 weeks and 6 days into their pregnancy, after which it is banned, according to Abortion Finder, a website tracking abortion access in the country. Youngkin is trying to introduce a 15-week ban with some exceptions.
A bill limiting abortion access to 15 weeks was defeated by the state Senate in January. Youngkin said he supported the 15-week limit because a fetus can feel pain at that point (According to the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists, a fetus cannot feel pain until the third trimester, which begins at around 27 weeks).
Morrissey co-sponsored a bill that called for a 20-week ban because he had not seen evidence that fetuses could feel pain at 15 weeks, he told the Associated Press. It failed last year.
Democrats currently enjoy a slim majority in the Virginia state Senate, while Republicans have a narrow majority in the state House.
Morrissey’s stance on abortion was just one of the reasons why he lost the support of his colleagues, the Virginia Senate Democratic Women’s Caucus said.
A former prosecutor turned defense attorney, Morrissey was disbarred twice over a tumultuous career marked by fistfights and contempt of court citations. In 2014, he was jailed over a sex scandal involving his 17-year-old receptionist, who later became his wife and with whom he had seven children. Former Governor Ralph Northam, a Democrat, pardoned him last year.
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